Last resort: Stuck on hold trying to reach your airline? Head to the airport.

Jul 25, 2021

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As airline call times have reached unthinkable levels this summer, I have been trying to figure out how to successfully avoid the long wait times to speak to an agent, and I may have cracked the code.

Earlier in the summer, I learned through trial and error that calling early in the morning (so early it could be considered the middle of the night) yields shorter wait times than usual, and texting or tweeting the airlines sometimes yields faster results as well. But there is one solution I’ve found that has worked better than all other methods: going to the airport and speaking to a ticketing agent in person.

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I used this method during my most recent international trip when the Delta flight I was taking from San Francisco to Paris was hit with major delays that would have upended my travel plans.

My original itinerary had my partner and I fly from San Francisco to Paris, with a quick layover in Atlanta. Things were looking great; My Main Economy tickets had been upgraded to Comfort+ due to my Gold status, and I was generally just excited to be headed back to my favorite country for a week of family time, fun nights out and great food.

The night before our flight, I was going over all of my documents to make sure that I had everything I needed to enter France smoothly, and was just about to eat dinner when I got a text alert on my phone from Delta. The alert stated that our aircraft had been changed, and we had been bumped from Comfort+ back to Main Economy. This should have been my first sign that something was awry, but I didn’t read too much into it and continued on with my night. A few hours later I was just about to go to sleep when I grabbed my phone to set an alarm for my early wake-up call. It was only then that I realized that I’d just missed another text alert from Delta — this one much more alarming.

My original flight from San Francisco to Atlanta had now been delayed by six hours, and was now leaving at 2:00 pm! Realizing that this delay meant my partner and I would miss our connecting flight from Atlanta to Paris, I shot out of bed and immediately called the Delta helpline to rebook our flights. As expected, an automated message told me that the current hold time would be around two hours, which was not going to work.

Instead of playing the waiting game, I put on some clothes and shoes, ordered an Uber and headed straight to the airport.

Related: The 9-hour wait: Here’s why airline hold times are so bad

After a short Uber ride (around five minutes, as I was staying at the Hilton San Francisco Airport Bayfront), I arrived at the airport and made a beeline to the ticketing counter. There were only three employees working because it was so late at night — two agents helping at the baggage kiosks, and one sole employee handling all of the “special services” cases at her kiosk. I took my place in the “Special Services” queue and waited somewhat patiently until the Delta agent finished up with the person in front of me. This took about 15 minutes from the time I was dropped off at the airport.

When I made it to the counter I explained my situation to the ticketing agent, who informed me that the flight delay was most likely due to Hurricane Elsa, which was making its way up the East Coast that week. However, she was luckily able to find us another flight that landed in Paris around the same time as our original flight, but with a layover in Minneapolis instead of Atlanta. Even better, she secured us the last two Comfort+ seats on the longer leg from Minneapolis to Paris.

The agent fixed our entire itinerary in a matter of 15 minutes, and just like that we were headed back to the hotel with our new boarding passes in hand. The very best? She was able to do all of that as well as confirm that all of the documents we needed were in order and filled out correctly.

Related: France adds US to ‘green’ list: I’m in the country now — here’s what it’s like and what to expect

When we got back to the hotel it was around 1:40 AM, making the total rebooking time — from driving to the airport, waiting in line to speak with the “special services” agent, getting rebooked and set up with our new boarding passes, and getting back home — around one hour and 10 minutes. And keep in mind that this entire time, I was still on hold for Delta’s customer service line on my cell phone.

Of course, it would have been much easier and so much more convenient to sort out all of my flight issues from the comfort of my own home (or hotel room), but until the call lines are back down to pre-COVID wait times, finding creative solutions like this may just be the way to beat the system. My advice for those needing help with flights ASAP? Save yourself the elevator music headache, and instead just head to the airport!

Photo courtesy of American Airlines.

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